Arson attack at Japan anime studio kills 33

By: Linda Safoa Antwi
Japan anime studio fire kills 33
It took firefighters five hours to bring the blaze under control, reports said

AT least 33 people are dead and dozens injured after a man set fire to an animation studio in the Japanese city of Kyoto, officials say.

Police said the 41-year-old suspect broke into the Kyoto Animation studio on Thursday morning and sprayed petrol before igniting it.

The suspect has been detained and was taken to hospital with injuries.

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said the incident was "too appalling for words" and offered condolences.

Kyoto Animation, known as KyoAni, produces films and graphic novels and is well regarded by fans for the quality of its productions.

How did the incident unfold?

The fire broke out at the three-storey building at around 10:30 local time (01:35 GMT) on Thursday. Rescue operations are still ongoing.

Police also found knives at the scene, say local media. NHK said the man had been heard saying "drop dead" as he set fire to the building.

The suspect's relationship with the company is unclear.

Eyewitnesses described a loud explosion followed by an inferno that rapidly engulfed the building.

"I saw some people with burns, covered with something. They were rushed to the ambulance," one neighbour said.

Firefighters found 10 of the victims on the stairs linking the second floor to the roof and it is feared more people could still be on the top floor.

Japanese officials said the victims were dead or "in cardio-pulmonary arrest" - a formulation routinely used in Japan for victims who have died but whose deaths have not yet been officially confirmed.

Some 36 people are in hospital, some in a critical condition, reports say. About 70 people were in the building when the fire started.

Who is the suspect?

Latest reports say the man is not a former employee - but eyewitnesses say he appeared to be angry with the animation studio.

They said he ran away from the building towards a nearby train station after the fire started but fell to the ground. Some reports said he was pursued by employees of Kyoto Animation.

"A person with singed hair was lying down and there were bloody footprints," a 59-year-old woman living nearby told news agency Kyodo.

"He seemed to be in pain, irritated and suffering, but also angry as if he was resentful. I heard him saying something like 'you copied it'," a neighbour said.

The Asahi Shimbun newspaper quoted a 61-year-old neighbour as saying she clearly heard the man shout: "You ripped me off."

The suspect was injured and was being treated in hospital, so police could not immediately question him, NHK said.

Japanese media reports said a man in his 40s had earlier bought 40 litres (nine gallons) of petrol at a nearby petrol station. Two containers used for the fuel were later found at the scene of the fire, Asahi Shimbun newspaper reported.

Meanwhile Kyoto Animation Director Hideaki Hatta told the broadcaster that the company had recently received threatening emails.

"They were addressed to our office and sales department and told us to die," he said.

What do we know about the studio?

Kyoto Animation, known as KyoAni, was founded in 1981 and has produced popular animation shows including "K-On" and "The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya".

The studio also released a standalone feature anime A Silent Voice in 2016.

One of KyoAni's series, Evergarden, was picked up by Netflix for a global market.

It also publishes many popular graphic novels mainly about teenage school life.

The studio is also known for paying its animators a regular salary, breaking with the industry's standard of paying per frame which is seen as putting extreme pressure on staff.

How have fans reacted?

Japanese anime has a huge following not just in Japan but around the world.

On social media, many fans have been expressing their shock and posting pictures of their favourite KyoAni shows.

A GoFundMe campaign titled "Help KyoAni Heal" has also been started, with more than $300,000 (£240,000) raised in six hours.